Post MSI Thoughts: Team SoloMid

Once again, North America’s Team SoloMid failed to get out of groups at an international event. This is the second time we’ve seen them do poorly at MSI. This was somewhat expected of them coming in; Most people had them ranked 5th coming in after struggling to defeat Vietnam’s Gigabyte Marines in the play-in stage.

Problems

It’s hard to know exactly why TSM tends to play worse internationally. Domestically, TSM is usually somewhat proactive and aren’t afraid to pull the trigger on plays.

Photo by: Riot Esports

During MSI, TSM was often playing scared, not willing to make any plays to finish the game. They built up early game leads, but time and time again they didn’t know how to snowball them to victory.

 

It could be an issue of needing to bring in more analysts or coaches. Too many issues have plagued TSM for literally the whole season with little improvement. These issues arose once again during the Mid Season Invitational and ultimately cost them a spot in the bracket stage.

Their drafts may not have been the issue – even though they were heavily criticized for them. A lack of being able to play the meta was.

It seemed that mid laner Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg could not play Syndra counters such as Fizz and Ekko. Syndra was one of the strongest mid lane champions at MSI. Fizz was also a very valuable flex pick if teams could pull it off, but TSM refused to show the ability to play it in their comps. “Protect the ADC” was also a huge strategy that TSM failed to execute in the first game of group stages against Gigabyte Marines. They would go on the rest of the tournament not attempting to play a similar comp again.

Player Performance

Jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen and ADC Jason “Wildturtle” Tran were some of the most criticized members during the group stage of MSI. Svenskeren once again was often getting caught out on greedy invades without proper lane pressure. This had been a constant issue in North America, and it continued here. Individually, it felt like Svenskeren was out-classed by most of the junglers at this tournament aside from G2’s Trick. Svenskeren finished the tournament with a 1.9 KDA and most deaths for junglers.

Many were quick to jump on the Wildturtle hate train after he face checked baron with both summs up against WE during a vital part of the game. Wildturtle statistically did not have a great showing; He was basically near the bottom for most categories among ADC’s. In mid-late game team fights outside of that WE face check, he wasn’t terrible. Wildturtle was never a main carry threat for the team and was usually put on something like Ashe or Varus that could help with locking someone down.

Top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell had a somewhat underwhelming performance after being named MVP of the LCS finals. There were games where his split pushing on Kennen won them games, but there were also times where he got solo killed out of nowhere or got caught out. In the G2 game, Hauntzer was caught out split pushing in the bot lane, which helped G2 stall the game even more and led to TSM’s defeat.

Bjergsen and Hauntzer’s shotcalling seemed pretty off for most of the tournament. TSM seemed lost in what to do with their early game leads and had some of the longest games of the tournament. Even when they did win, it usually wasn’t very convincing.

Looking Ahead

It will be interesting to see if TSM can bounce back from their MSI performance. Taking North America hasn’t been a tough task for them, but translating it over to international success has been a struggle. With star ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng coming back into the mix, we have to wait to see how the team adjusts. Doublelift has the capabilities to be a consistent main carry for the team, along with being a major part of the shot calling last Summer.

Most would expect TSM to add another analyst possibly or another head coach into the mix. Parth has been with TSM for awhile now, but some of their problems are still lingering. After Svenskeren’s performance last split and at MSI, he’ll definitely be a player to watch coming in. If he continues to struggle, TSM could look to replace him for Worlds. One bad tournament shouldn’t justify benching him though.


Cover photo by Riot Esports

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NALCS Finals Preview: Rematch of the Gods

After a long LCS spring split, the finals are just days away. Two of the most successful organizations in Cloud 9 and Team SoloMid will face off once again to see who will be crowned as the champions of Spring Split 2017. This match is crucial for both teams. Ninety Circuit points and a spot at MSI are on the line.

Team SoloMid

Courtesy: Riot Esports

TSM comes in as slight favorites, having finished the regular season at the top of the standings. They looked much improved from the start of the split, with top laner Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell having a breakout split. Mid laner Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg is still performing as the star mid laner we’ve come to know. Meanwhile, the bot lane duo of Jason “Wildturtle” Tran and Vincent “Biofrost” Wang have developed into a formidable bot lane duo.

TSM has a long history of NALCS titles, having been one of the first successful organizations in professional League of Legends. Owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh has made it clear that anything short of a first place finish is a disappointment.

They had a few early game hiccups in their semifinal match against Flyquest. Notably, jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen making some overly aggressive plays without proper lane pressure. This resulted in him and Hauntzer getting caught by a collapsing Flyquest in game one.

Despite this, all their lanes were usually fairly far ahead. Their rotations were solid and they were able to out maneuver Flyquest around the map in each game, resulting in their 3-0 sweep.

Cloud 9

Courtesy: Riot Esports

Cloud 9 came into the split as preseason favorites. With Wildturtle taking the helm at ADC for TSM, most expected Cloud 9 to step up as the new kings of North America. After a strong 8-0 start, the team’s problems became apparent. Their lack of early game play making was an evident problem that teams began to exploit.

Rookie jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia has looked like the promising jungler most had hoped for at the beginning of the split. He had a great series against Phoenix1, and will be vital in their series against TSM.

Cloud 9 also has an interesting dynamic with their Korean top lane duo of Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong and Jeon “Ray” Ji-won. Both top laners have shown some great performances on different champions. With Impact, they appear to like him on comps where a tank is needed, such as Nautilus or Maokai. With Ray, you always have to worry about his signature split push Jarvan or his Renekton.

Support Andy “Smoothie” Ta has had a breakout year, being heralded as the best support of the split this year. After some rocky splits on TL and TDK, he’s finally found his groove with this C9 roster.

With another split of coaching under Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu, Cloud 9 looked like they had peaked midway through the split. As teams around them got better, they stayed the same, and dropped games because of this. With two weeks of practice before playing their first playoff match, they looked much improved. They’re hoping it will be enough to retake the North American throne from TSM.

 

Matchup to Watch: Svenskeren vs. Contractz

Courtesy: Riot Esports

My matchup to watch is in the jungle. Cloud 9’s Contractz got the better of Svenskeren in their first meeting of the split, but his performance slowly stagnated as the season progressed. He’s had a decent split with high expectations heading in. He’s had his share of rookie mistakes, sometimes over extending without the help of his team.

In Cloud 9’s match against Phoenix1, Contractz looked revitalized as the star jungler many had expected in the preseason. He seemed to always be in the right place at the right time to help his team.

TSM’s Svenskeren admitted in an interview before playoffs that he felt he wasn’t playing his best. Despite being on the top team in the league, Sven had one of the lowest KP% of all junglers, and was middle of the pack in KDA. The aggression he’s known for sometimes puts him in bad positions to be caught out. Svenskeren will need to be very calculated with his invades, as Contractz is another jungler who likes to play aggressively.

Contractz will need to do a good job tracking Svenskeren in the early game. If they can pick him off early in their jungle, Cloud 9 have the talent to use those small leads to their advantage. With Contractz playing in his first ever LCS final, he may feel the pressure of being in such a packed stadium for the first time. The LCS stage is one thing, but a whole arena packed around you is completely different. He’ll need to keep his nerves in check for Cloud 9 to be able to take the series.

Prediction

With how these two teams played in semifinals, Cloud 9 honestly looked a bit cleaner to me than TSM. It’s tough to say when Phoenix1 played their sub support for whatever reason for the first two games. TSM’s early games against Flyquest weren’t the cleanest, but their mid game teamfighting and shotcalling was what propelled them to huge gold leads.

As a Cloud 9 fan, I’ll be rooting for them all the way, but I think in the end, TSM’s veteran experience will be the difference in a 3-2 victory over Cloud 9.

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Thoughts on NALCS Day 1

Standout Rookie Junglers

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Rookie Cloud 9 Jungler, Juan “Contractz” Garcia, looked far from any rookie we’ve seen in NALCS. In two games against the North American powerhouse, TSM, he ganked early and often. Both games he got first blood, and set the tempo for Cloud 9 to take the series 2-0. He started game two with a 5-0 kill score on Lee Sin, basically snowballing the early game before sealing the deal with an amazing ult onto Wildturtle in the final team fight.  

A lot of analysts were wondering whether they should believe in the hype for 17 year old Jungle prodigy. After a performance like that, it’s almost hard not to. In his post game interview he was extremely humble, saying, “This isn’t where I want to be yet, I want to be much better.” If this is only the beginning, everyone will be watching to see how far he can really go.

Matthew “Akaadian” Higginbotham of Echo Fox had much less hype around him. Most people expected him to be average at best. In both games against Phoenix1, Akkadian was able to get Echo Fox off to an early lead with some aggressive ganks to the Mid and Top lane. Although, the team fell short with some late team-fighting failures, Akkadian was a standout player for me. Nobody was really talking about him before the NALCS Split, but it definitely looks like they should be.   

 

TeamSoloMid’s Shotcalling Troubles

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

People will be quick to place the blame on replacement ADC Jason “Wildturtle” Tran for this loss, but TSM as a whole played poorly from what we’re used to seeing. Even the draft was questionable.  

What stood out the most was the poor shotcalling, specifically in Game 2. Jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen made an amazing Baron steal to keep TSM in the game. He died quickly after, and instead of TSM resetting with four members with Baron Buff they decided to try to make a pick on Cloud 9 support, Andy “Smoothie” Ta. The team takes a poor 4v5 fight and Cloud 9 takes an inhibitor for it. In the final team fight of Game 2, TSM tries to focus down a very tanky Nautilus which leads to them getting Aced, and Cloud 9 ending the game from there.  

This isn’t the first time they’ve had questionable decision making either. Poor decisions with Baron buff against Unicorns of Love also led to them losing 1-2 at IEM Oakland. That was a few months ago. It raises the discussion of how much they miss former ADC Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng’s contribution to shotcalling. If this team hasn’t fixed those issues yet, it will be a tough Split for them. Cloud 9 is a hard first opponent, but if TSM can’t fix their shotcalling issues, Doublelift may need to come back sooner than later. Reginald has made it clear that anything outside of first is a failed Split for TSM. 

P1’s abysmal early game vs. Echo Fox’s terrible late game

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Phoenix1 and Echo Fox came into the Spring Split with not too many expectations. Most people were ranking P1 as a middle tier team and Echo Fox near the bottom of the standings.  

Echo Fox surprised most spectators as they were able to take command of the early game for both games. Back to back ganks from Akaadian for Mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen set him up to be able to carry on his Leblanc. That was not the case, as poor teamfighting allowed P1 back into the game. It was a back and forth clown fiesta for a bit before Phoenix1 eventually closed out Game 1 with a victory.

In Game 2, Akaadian aimed his ganks to the Top Lane for former World Champion Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok to  be able to carry on his signature champion, Singed. Echo Fox were ahead by as much as 3.1k at one point, and once again, threw their lead at a poor team fight around dragon. Shortly after, Phoenix1 took baron and ended the game in 24 minutes.  

Phoenix1 simply won’t be able to rely on poor mid-late game team fighting against stronger teams. Inori will need to be more active in the early game if this team really wants to contend. It may have been nerves, but most teams won’t throw away huge gold leads like Echo Fox did today.  

 

Echo Fox’s Jungler, Akaadian, looked better than what most people expected. Much of the early leads were off the ganks and pressure he was distributing among the map. Mid and late game shotcalling will need to improve if this team wants to make playoffs. Looper looked okay at best, but not nearly what we expect from a former World Champion. The language barrier may be more of an issue than they had suspected.  

One thing that may also develop is a rivalry between these two young junglers. In an interview before the match, Akaadian called spectators out for overrating Phoenix1 Jungler, Rami “Inori” Charagh last season. Akaadian also noted that if Inori isn’t able to “cheese” people, than he’s basically useless for the rest of the game. When David “Phreak” Turley asked Inori about it in the post game interview, he declined to fire any shots back towards Akaadian. He chose to let his play speak for him, but it will be interesting if this evolves into a mini-rivalry between these two young NALCS jungle talents.

TeamSoloMid Owner, Reginald, Fires Shots at Other Owners Importing

In an interview in between Games 1 and 2 between C9 and TSM, Andy “Reginald” Dinh fired shots at other team owners, saying, “A lot of the team owners don’t know what they’re doing. They’re importing Korean talent over without knowing how to place them into their roster.”  A lot of NBA teams buying into the NALCS with no experience of the scene have been trying to acquire the biggest names possible and hoping it works without having the right infrastructure to support them  

He specifically aimed his comments towards Team Dignitas and Echo Fox, saying, “They’re going to place bottom half for sure.”  

It’s a bold prediction going into the Spring as most new North American teams have looked to Korea to import some of the best players in League of Legends. Reginald’s philosophy with TSM is to prioritize communication and synergy over individual skill. No one can really argue as his team finished first place in Summer 2016 for North America, only losing one series to Phoenix1. CLG, who won Spring last season, had five players who all spoke English as well.  

This Split will definitely prove Reginald right or wrong. Many of the newer teams entering the scene have imported a lot of Korean talents in an attempt to contend for an NALCS title. It will be interesting if more owners follow Reginald’s philosophy moving forward, or continue with the trend of importing high-profile Korean talent.

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Day 1 of NALCS is in the books and I look forward to the rest of the match-ups!

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Can Mastermind Weldon solve G2’s International Woes?

Weldon’s Own Success

G2 Esports made an amazing addition to their League of Legends team with the official announcement of TSM’s former assistant coach, Weldon Green, joining their coaching staff. Weldon has been working vigorously within the Pro League of Legends scene with high-profile teams such as TSM, CLG, and Fnatic as a team psychologist. With his recent success with TSM, other teams have picked up on this trend and decided to hire their own team psychologists. They are meant to help deal with the mental grind that pros endure throughout the season, along with helping players deal with the jitters that may be related to playing on stage.

Weldon began on TSM in small sessions during the 2016 Spring Split, eventually landing a full-time position for the Summer. TSM finished the Summer Split with a phenomenal 17-1 record while also finishing first place in the NALCS, before failing to get out of their group at Worlds. Weldon was credited with playing a major role in their success last season. TSM decided that they wanted to part ways with Weldon for the upcoming season, noting that having his assistance may be better in sessions as opposed to full time.

Current State of G2

Courtesy of Riot Esports Flickr

Weldon enters a G2 team that has found much success, almost breezing through the EULCS competition last season. They have a talented roster that has failed to show up in international events since they’ve begun their LCS journey. Last season, G2 failed to make it out of groups at Riot’s Mid Seasonal Invitational, struggling against most of the teams there. They received a lot of hate and criticism from the community when they stated they decided to give their players a break coming into a very serious international tournament that would affect seeding for Worlds.

G2 hoped to redeem themselves at Worlds after being put into a group most agreed they would be able to get out of. That did not prove the case as Albus Nox Luna shocked the World, as they became the first Wildcard to make it out of groups. They beat out CLG and G2 for the second spot out of their group. G2 finished Worlds with a 1-5 record, only taking one game off of Albus Nox Luna. G2 as a whole received a lot of hate from the EU community for representing their region so poorly, coming in as the “best team” from Europe.

Building off Regular Season Success

Weldon comes in looking to improve off an overall successful regular season from G2, and improving on the international problems that have plagued them. In EU, Trick and Perkz have looked like two players with amazing synergy and individual talent. As we know, that hasn’t translated into international play just yet.  Meanwhile, Zven and Mithy, have proven to be one of the best bot lanes in the West, but even they didn’t look as good as most people expected at Worlds. Their top laner, Expect, for the most part, was a consistent performer, doing what his team needed. His miscommunication on Teleport, however, cost his team at times.

What is it about performing at international tournaments that hinder G2 so much?  In a twitlonger posted by Perkz after Worlds, he stated, “I was mostly sad that I disappointed myself because I had a lot higher expectations of myself after the whole Korean bootcamp where I felt like I had reached very high level and consistent performance in scrims and not being able to translate that on stage hit me really hard”. The bootcamp in Korea resulted in many rumors that G2 was one of the stronger teams at Worlds. When it came time to play week one, their showing was miserable. They went 0-3, while not looking competitive for basically every game, besides a strong early game vs. ROX in which some poor teamfighting led them to another hard loss.

Weldon has a tough task ahead of him. With a lot of new, young, revamped LCS teams coming into Europe, G2 will not have as easy of a path to Worlds as they did last season. Will he be able to show off the same success as TSM, or will G2’s nerves get the best of them?

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